Helping Cultivate Healthy Social Media Use with Youth in Your Life
How Coaches and Parents Can Support Them in Developing Healthy Social Media Behaviors.
Many of you remember the public service announcement from the 80’s, “It’s 10 PM, do you know where your children are?” If your kids are like most, they’re on their phone/computer checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, tiktok, or Snapchat. The age group between 13-17 often consumes 6-8 hours a day of social media and online content. While social media can certainly cause it’s share of problems, it’s here to stay. Young people are going to use it whether adults like it or not. Parents and coaches have a tough job—the goal isn’t to keep athletes off social media altogether, but to support them in developing healthy social media behaviors.
Let’s examine both sides of the social media phenomenon:
Helpful Impacts on Mental Health:
• It can provide a wealth of information for athletes looking to improve themselves physically and mentally, usually free of charge
• Group support
• Some kids have more comfort reaching out in an online format
• Sharing their athletic achievements with a wide and diverse population
• A platform for them to develop their “Brand” and market themselves
• An escape from the daily routine and outside of their “normal”
Harmful Impacts on Mental Health:
• Individuals or groups can post or share information easily without regard for a specific individual or group. This allows the consumers to infer tone and intent and this is where bullying is born.
• Even in instances where negative information is shared and then removed, that moment can resurface at any time which may cause the individual or group to process the emotions and feelings time and time again.
• The negative emotions that can be created because of social media are far-reaching and can take over a large portion of your child’s time and energy.
• Too many late-night hours can negatively impact sleep and we know how important the proper amount of sleep is to overall positive mental health.
How can parents engage their children to harness the positives of social media
Ask questions. Let’s face it—most youths know way more about social media than the adults in their lives. And they know more about what exactly they’re doing online. Instead of starting conversations by talking about the harms or effects of social media, be open and curious about their unique experiences with it.
Celebrate the positives. When kids feel judged or misunderstood about their social media use, they’re likely to get defensive and shut down. Make sure to point out how great it is that they were able to connect with their friends and family who live far away, or comment on how helpful it must be to reach most of their teammates to discuss who’s signed up to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic!
Promote limiting screen time. Everything in moderation, right? Excessive time on the internet and social media has been linked to poorer mental health outcomes like depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Younger children will need more help with this—consider setting time limits or media-free zones. As children get older, support them in managing their own usage—encourage them to dedicate time to offline activities or help them update their phone settings to limit time on certain apps.
Model healthy use. This one is more important than you think. Young people notice what adults are doing more than we may think, including being told to get off their devices while the adults in their life seem just as obsessed. It can be tempting to try to manage their use, but you’re better off modeling healthy habits (age dependent, of course). Studies have shown that parental use of digital technology, rather than their attitudes toward it, determines how their children will engage with it.
Friend/follow your kids’ accounts. Your kids—especially teenagers—might resist you monitoring their social media, but it’s important that you’re (somewhat) informed of what’s happening in their online world. Explain your reasoning, listen to their hesitations, and let them set boundaries. Your virtual relationship with your child is an entirely new one, so be patient. Your best bet to build trust is to stay in the background: Don’t comment or like their posts unless they want you to, let the little things slide, and be ready to have offline conversations about the important things.
Social media can be a useful tool for development and distraction, but it can be a weapon of mental and athletic destruction in similar ways. The line between is often blurred.
“It’s 10 PM, do you know where your children are?”
Youth and Social Media: Mental Health Effects and Healthy Use (healthline.com)
Kevin Gorey is a Senior Director at the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH). Kevin brings extensive experience from both commercial health care and sports medicine to the USCAH team. His three-decades long professional experience has produced high-level results for the organizations he has had the privilege to work with.
The U.S. Council for Athletes' Health (USCAH) was founded upon the need for trusted, independent athletic health care partners with the experience and expertise to advise and consult with organizations regarding their healthcare delivery system. This is why USCAH is committed to providing independent and unbiased medical expertise to organizations and individuals dedicated to the optimal health and safety for the athletes they serve. You can find out more about USCAH at www.uscah.com or by reaching out to [email protected]